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four course areas, overview
college foundation skills
academic samplers
college success
career development
course examples

Area I
Area II
Area III - College Success
Area IV

Area III – College Success (example)


Notetaking Person writing notes in a notebook

Why take notes?

Right now, you might be thinking, "I remember things without having to write them down!"

Some of us will go a long way to avoid writing!  There are often good reasons for this--such as bad memories of getting back compositions covered in red ink, or a dislike of being corrected by someone for every spelling or punctuation error you make. Even if you're not particularly fond of writing, you'll need to be good at taking notes in class, while you're reading, and when you're doing research. And, since your notes are for you, not someone else, you don't need to worry about someone else marking up your work with red ink!.

If you've worked on the Study Reading course or the Learning to Learn course, you've already thought about ways in which learning and reading in college is different from reading and learning in other settings. Differences such as those listed below can make learning in college a challenge:

  • the intensity of the learning,
  • the pace of the learning, and
  • the amount of reading and learning expected in relatively short periods of time

A rationale for notetaking

In some areas of our lives, what happens is routine - the same old thing every day. You probably don't need to write a note to remind yourself to go to bed or to get up in the morning!  But when something non-routine happens, or is planned - like an appointment with a doctor - you probably write it down, or the doctor's assistant writes it down for you.

Most of us also have rather routine lives - work at the same time every day, patterns of social events and household tasks that don't change much. Others have less routine, more variety. The less routine you have, the more memory is required.

Just as you probably store computer files on external, or floppy, disks to save space in your computer or to have it handy at some spot other than where your computer is, writing is like having an external, mobile memory resource. When you write things down, you remember them better. But just in case you need it, you also have that back up - the written note - that will aid your memory when it falters.

Think of college as an extremely rapid series of intense, memory-consuming non-routine events. (The only thing routine about learning in college may be your class schedule - and, we hope, your study schedule!) Everyone needs memory support under these circumstances. And that's why becoming comfortable with taking notes is important.

Focus your notetaking

Probably the biggest problem new college students have when the take notes is trying to decide what to write down during lecture. Some write down too much (too many details) while others don't write enough for the notes to make sense later on.

Probably the most importantthing you can do to improve your notes is to learn to focus on the main ideas and how they are connected. You can review this skill in the Mindquest Academy's Reading Strategies and Study Reading courses if you need to . If you find the note taking assignments in this course difficult, a review of the concept of "Main Ideas" might be helpful.

You can use the skills you learned in Module One to listen for the verbal signals that indicate common organizational patterns. You should also watch for non-verbal signals that let you know an idea is important.

Other resources to help you focus on the important ideas are your course syllabus, lecture schedule, and course outline. Some college instructors provide study guides for large textbooks that will help you focus on what's important to learn. The reading due for that day will also hold clues as to what is important.

Two of the strategies we'll explain in this module will also help you focus on listening for and taking notes on main ideas and the connections among them--concept mapping and using the key word system. Be sure to watch for them when you get to the section on strategies!

Assignment 2.2: Summarizing what you know now about notetaking.

Make a file for this assignment and save it in your course folder. Be sure to write your responses to the three questions below in complete sentences.

  1. Explain why taking good notes is important in a college setting.
  2. Explain why finding the main ideas in a lecture and focusing on them is important.
  3. What tools can you use to help you focus your note taking?

When you're finished, check your spelling and punctuation. Be sure all your sentences are clear and easy to understand. Save your work, then send it to your instructor.

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